Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Public Policy (PhD)

Degree Level



Political Science


Brinck Kerr III

Committee Member

Valerie H. Hunt

Second Committee Member

Patricia R. Koski


Individual Education Program (IEP), Individuals with Disabilities Act, Juvenile Justice, Racial Disparity, School-to-Prison Pipeline, Special Education


The school-to-prison pipeline metaphor represents an educational environment that allows public schools to push many at-risk children out of school and into the juvenile justice system or even worse, the adult criminal justice system (Wald and Losen, 2003; Lynn, 2010; Tuzzolo and Hewitt, 2006). The purpose of this study is to examine whether a school-to-prison pipeline exists in eastern Oklahoma, and if so, to better understand the characteristics of the public schools that may be contributing to it. The school-to-prison pipeline metaphor guided three research questions regarding whether certain public schools in eastern Oklahoma referred greater percentages of their students, special needs students, and special needs population to the Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA), the juvenile authority in Oklahoma. To answer these questions a survey was conducted during the 2011 and 2012 academic school year that measured public school referrals of students, particularly special needs students, to the OJA in ten eastern Oklahoma counties. Further data were collected from the Oklahoma Department of Education on nine specific demographic variables to create a profile of each of the 154 schools in the sample population. Multiple regression analysis indicate that greater percentages of students referred by public schools to the OJA are related to (1) higher percentages of African Americans, (2) higher percentages of Native Americans, (3) higher percentages of students receiving a free or subsidized lunch, (4) higher percentages of male students, and (5) higher percentages of special needs students in the public school. The study provides policy recommendations that focus on intervention strategies that might prevent unnecessary (1) referrals to juvenile justice and (2) recommendations for future research.